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Smaller Jailhouse, Safer City?
Can New Orleans become a safer city with a smaller local prison population? "Yes, absolutely," says Anthony Radosti, vice president of the conservative, pro-law enforcement Metropolitan Crime Commission and a retired New Orleans police detective. Those two goals can be accomplished by reforming the commercial bail bond system for releasing accused offenders from the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) system. Bail bond reform also would reduce opportunities for public corruption, Radosti says. The New Orleans City Council is looking for safe, cost-effective alternatives to rebuilding OPP into one of the nation's largest urban jails. Radosti says council members should consider models endorsed by the feds. Sam Dalton, lead attorney in a civil suit arising from a bail bond scandal in Jefferson Parish that sent two judges to federal prison, says New Orleans should consider St. Charles Parish as a model. There, a defendant or his family deposits 10 percent of the bond with the sheriff, whose office tracks the case. If the case is dismissed, the bond is returned -- less 1 percent. A commercial bond costs 12 percent, which the company keeps after the defendant appears in court. -- Johnson

 

The Digital Politician
Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal effectively announced two weeks ago what everyone already knew -- that he will probably run for governor against Democratic incumbent Kathleen Blanco next autumn. What's unusual about Jindal's announcement was that he did it via an email to supporters and the media. Dr. G. Pearson Cross, a professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says the ploy was likely a calculated move. For starters, Jindal will get another week of press when he officially announces. Equally important, he signaled that he's not the same old candidate. "He's showing us that he's a new kind of candidate -- young and intelligent and willing to use this technology," Cross says. The email also provided a link for donations, with Jindal suggesting amounts ranging from $25 to $5,000. Jindal already has more than $330,000 in his state account, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, but it's going to take millions to unseat Blanco. As for the GOP endorsement, party executive director James Quinn says it's too early for that. "We support all Republicans," Quinn says. There is a Republican State Central Committee meeting this Saturday (Dec. 2), and that's the forum from which an endorsement will eventually come. But, Quinn says, nothing related to the governor's race is on the agenda that day. "I wouldn't expect that anytime soon," he adds. -- Alford

 

Coastal Institute Ready to Play Ball
Mark Davis, until recently one of the state's premier coastal lobbyists, has taken a senior research fellow position at Tulane Law School to oversee a new institute dedicated solely to water resources. After nearly 15 years at the helm of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a nonprofit advocacy group, Davis left the job in June. In many ways, his new job at Tulane will keep him on the same career path. He says there is a growing need to better understand and improve the laws and policies that govern water resources and coastal management, and the institute will provide a forum for that. As for the institute's top priority, Davis says that depends on the amount of money Congress directs to Louisiana for coastal problems. He's not optimistic about getting wads of federal cash, but Davis says the state nonetheless must have the right kind of laws and policies in place to deal with the situation -- and quickly. "The Corps of Engineers is facing budget caps, Congress is considering the [Water Resources Development Act], which hasn't passed in years and is based on plans that were drawn up before the storms, and we're on the verge of seeing the third straight Congress to authorize absolutely nothing," Davis says. "It's like sending prayers up to people who aren't listening." Davis says there's also a need for a watchdog of sorts to keep track of all the various coastal recovery plans beings drafted. The feasibility of each should be thoroughly investigated, and an overall strategy determined, before the state finds itself drowning in studies. While Davis will no longer be a fixture at the Legislature on coastal issues, he says the institute will regularly publish white papers and may convene major conferences. "We're not just going to sit back and call balls or strikes," he says. -- Alford

 

Almost-Free Verse?
Gov. Kathleen Blanco is on the lookout for a good poet. Louisiana's poet laureate, Brenda Marie Osbey, steps down next year and there's no one in line to succeed her to our state's literary crown. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is overseeing the selection process and nominees are welcome -- no matter your talent. "A vast majority of the people being considered are serious, but then there are people that, well, let's just say they're legends in they're own minds," says Michael Sartisky, chairman of the selection committee. Competition for the title is stiff, he adds, but it hasn't gotten to a level where candidates are lobbying. Moreover, the pay is the fiscal equivalent of drivel -- a $1,000 stipend is awarded. When the Legislature created the position a few years ago, Sartisky says he wrote a $10,000 stipend into the legislation, but lawmakers balked and reduced the award. The decision was questionable, he says, and lawmakers should have recognized that good iambic pentameter doesn't necessarily come cheap. "Hey, you're talking about the best poet in the state," Sartisky says. The deadline for nominations is Dec. 8. To become better, um, versed on this subject, go to www.leh.org. -- Alford

 

Andy's Gig is Dandy
His rise to fame dates back to the tenure of former Gov. Mike Foster, for whom he worked as chief of staff until repeating the performance under Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Then last year he took over the top job at the Louisiana Recovery Authority. At only 40, Andy Kopplin has long been one of the state's young superstars, and every so often speculation runs rampant that the private sector -- with its cool cash -- might snag the wunderkind. When asked recently how much longer he plans to lead the LRA, which is charged with overseeing the state's rebuilding efforts, Kopplin suggested that he'll stay put until Blanco, or her successor possibly, wants him out of the job. "That's not up to me," Kopplin says. "I am appointed, hired and fired by the governor of this state and that's in the statute. I haven't even thought about anything else. I've been doing this for 13 and a half months." -- Alford

 

Cold Cash, Cheap 'Safe'
Congressman Bill Jefferson has promised an "honorable explanation" for the $90,000 the FBI found in his home freezer last year. But take the feds' corruption probe of the congressman out of the story and you may have an inexpensive, relatively fire-proof safe in which to stash your own cash, a veteran fire official acknowledges. "[A freezer] would be better than putting it in your mattress, that's for sure," New Orleans Fire Capt. Nick Felton says. Firefighters entering fire-damaged homes have come across cash stuffed in cans, mattresses, under stairwells and in other home hideaways, says Felton, a 23-year fire veteran who also is president of the local firefighters union No. 632. "I've never run across anything like money in a freezer, I can tell you that, but it would make sense" from a fire-prevention view, he says. The firefighters union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which is endorsing Jefferson in his Dec. 9 re-election run-off bid against state Rep. Karen Carter. Of course, whether you keep your money in a bank or in a can at home, you're obviously better off with bills that have not been marked by the FBI, as alleged in Jefferson's case. -- Johnson

 

Some Honeymoon
One week after Police Chief Warren Riley got married, he appeared before the City Council on behalf of NOPD's proposed $113 million budget. After grilling the chief, several council members congratulated him for tying the knot. Reporters lining up for one-on-one interviews with Riley after the budget hearing received some surprisingly bad news: all media requests for interviews must first be approved by Mayor Ray Nagin's communications director, Ceeon Quiett. One reporter jokingly asked if the bureaucratic hurdle -- unheard of for an NOPD police chief after a budget hearing -- was the mayor's idea of giving Riley "an extended honeymoon." The chief laughed, waved and walked away. Quiett lived up to her name and did not return phone calls by press time. -- Johnson

 

Retarded Killer Facing Life
Federal Judge Carl Barbier on Friday (Dec. 1) is expected to sentence a mentally retarded man who recently confessed to a 2002 murder that shook public confidence in the New Orleans criminal justice system. Bryan Nelson, now 23, faces up to life in prison for the shotgun slaying of Christopher Briede, who was murdered in front of his wife, Amy Briede, inside their Mid-City home -- shortly after the couple left for work on the morning of Sept. 27, 2002. Nelson admitted he carjacked the couple, kidnapped them and took them back to their home, where Christopher Briede was killed. Federal prosecutors sought the death penalty for Nelson under a federal carjacking law. But after hearing expert testimony earlier this year, Judge Barbier concluded that Nelson was mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, court records show. On Aug. 23, Nelson withdrew his earlier plea of not guilty. He then admitted to shooting Christopher Briede once in the neck after a carjacking-kidnapping-home invasion episode. Nelson also tried to shoot Amy Briede but the gun jammed. Nelson and an accomplice, Darryl Franklin, then fled in the Briedes' car but were later arrested. An investigation showed that Nelson and Franklin were jailed for previous crime sprees and should not have been released in the first place. "Our hope is that Bryan Nelson will be sentenced to no less than life in prison," said Briede family spokesperson Otto Briede, a brother of the murder victim. -- Johnson

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